Stop eating galunggong, Villar tells public

MANILA, Philippines – As bad reports hound the galunggong or round scad, Senate agriculture committee chairperson Cynthia Villar said the public should play safe and stop eating it in the meantime.

Villar cited claims that formalin-tainted round scads are being sold in local market, which the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) had previously denied.

Sinabi niyo na may fomarlin ang galunggong. E di kumain tayo ng gulay… 'Di ko na nga maintindihan sino [ang] paniniwalaan. Better safe than sorry, 'wag na tayong kumain ng galunggong,” Villar told reporters in a press conference on Tuesday, August 28.

(You said there's formalin in round scald fish. Let's just eat vegetables. I don't know who to believe anymore. Better safe than sorry, let's just not eat round scald fish.)

Galunggong hit the headlines recently following the Department of Agriculture's (DA) disclosure that it's begun importing this type of fish, which is a common staple in Filipino homes.

A Senate hearing on Tuesday, however, showed that the government had been importing galunggong even before the department's announcement.

Villar said this is illegal, as there has been no previous shortage of galunggong.

She alleged this could count for smuggling.

Sammy Malvas, BFAR’s deputy director for administrative services, said imported galunggong is meant for “canning” and “processing.”

Asked by Villar to provide examples of canned and processed galunggong products, Malvas only said tinapa. Villar scolded him, saying tinapa is smoked, and not processed, fish. 

“I’ve never heard of that (importation to make it into smoked fish). Why are you importing galunggong when there’s no… It’s not allowed under the law unless there’s a shortage of fish. Why import? It is against the law. Smuggling 'yan,” Villar said.

Wala kayong ibang masabi na for processing except tinapa. Sinasabi niyo lang (You could not cite other products except for tinapa. You are just saying that you are) importing for processing pero you are really importing it for the wet market. We should not be importing for wet markets,” she said.

Malvas said entrepreneurs have been applying for galunggong importation.

Kahit na ba nag-aapply, eh kung bawal, bakit ka magbibigay [ng permit]?” the senator said. (Even if they have been applying, why would you grant permits if it is not allowed?)

Recent importation due to shortage

The DA recently approved the importation of galunggong to ensure “national food security.”

The department said the fish will come from China, Vietnam, and Taiwan to maintain a steady supply of fish as the closed fishing season nears. This means higher prices for fish even if caught in Philippine waters.

BFAR Director and Agriculture Undersecretary Eduardo Gongona earlier explained to Rappler that local fishermen are unable to catch all the fish within municipal waters.

"Hindi kaya ng mga mangingisda na kunin lahat. Kapag hindi mo na-catch sa municipal waters, lalabas na sa territory. Posible na ang isda na import from China o ibang bansa ay galing pa dito sa Pilipinas, sa West Philippine Sea," Gongona earlier said.

(Fishermen can't get them all. If you don't catch the fish within municipal waters, they would go out of the territory. It's possible that the imports from China or other countries are from here in the Philippines, from the West Philippine Sea.)

Fishermen have been unable to access fish-rich areas in the disputed West Philippine Sea like the Scarborough Shoal because Chinese boats have been fending them off. (READ: Duterte: China taking of PH fisherman's catch 'not outright seizure')

According to the Fisheries Code of the Philippines, local fishermen can fish freely within municipal waters or at most 15 kilometers from the shoreline. Commercial or larger fishing boats can only fish beyond municipal waters, or face sanctions from BFAR. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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